31 March, 2008

30 March, 2008

I Must Be Emo

This is an interesting article by Alexis Madrigal about violence between musical factions in Mexico:

Anti-Emo Riots Break Out Across Mexico

Emo kids get plenty of shit in the United States, but in my lifetime I have yet to see hatred between musical factions as organized as that which seems to be currently spreading across Mexico. Madrigal ties much of the anti-emo sentiment to the androgynous nature of the music and fashion, and the homophobia which is rampant in much of the world, but apparently very much so in Mexico. It's sad that we can't just live and let live.

Perfect Ratio

With snow yet again on the ground, it's sometimes difficult to imagine spring at all (although I did a pretty stellar job imagining yesterday while driving with my windows down, on the highway, in a t-shirt. Yeah, I'll be lucky if I don't get pneumonia.) For what it's worth (and it's worth quite a lot), the sun still shines and the skies are blue, but what I really want now is a few flowers and that intoxicating smell of rich, wet dirt. You readers who live in warmer climes may call me a creature of simple pleasures, but the psychological difference between a pile of dirty snow and a pile of living dirt ready for plants is basically off the charts in my mind.

Until I start to see some little, green shoots, I can put myself in that positive place with music. I've already started playing Bollywood/Bhangra as my background music. The Allman Brothers, Bob Marley, Brandi Carlile, and warmer Dire Straits music wafts into my ears and melodically unlocks that secret place in my mind where I store extra sunshine. Of course, depending on what kind of person you are and where your musical tastes lean, you're going to have different "springtide" (thanks for the neologism ICL) hits in mind. I'm attracted to a certain perfect ratio of melody, rhythm, and lyrical intelligence that probably manifests itself in ways other music-lovers would find boring or unsophisticated.

At the end of the day, when I'm feeling down, I need a good dose of pop spirit, the soothing/spinning melodies of jam bands, and the positive realism of lyrics by artists like Marley and Carlile to get me on my feet again. Like fingerprints, I think the music that's linked to happiness is different for every person, and even when you overlap with someone, it's often for different reasons. The most important thing to remember is that music can put you in a good place, even as the snow keeps piling up in your backyard.

29 March, 2008

"Nine In The Afternoon" - Panic At the Disco

I guess I'm not as annoyed by Panic At the Disco's blatant Beatles tribute as everyone else. Actually, I think it's really catchy!

For the Love of Books

I was laughing while reading this New York Times essay by Rachel Donadio. Laughing and crying.

It's Not You, It's Your Books

I also just finished this awesome work of short fiction by Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex) in the latest New Yorker. It's fabulous, but a bit of a downer, so read with caution.

Great Experiment

My other literary obsessions include the poetry of Li-Young Lee. I'm slowly sifting through his latest book, Behind My Eyes, which is absolutely gorgeous. Check it out: Behind My Eyes

That's all for now!

28 March, 2008

Let's Get Out of Here

This is how Andrew Bird's new song - tentatively titled "Oh No" - begins. He hasn't finished writing "Oh No", because he feels that one of his lines is too clever and too idiosyncratic, but we'll get to the "calcified charismatists" later.

Right now, at this very bleak New England moment, I'm relishing my organic breakfast cereal and wishing that "Superstar" by Sonic Youth will magically appear on my iTunes. It's the kind of day that makes me want to curl up in a big blanket and watch Bend It Like Beckham, and forget that there are things I really should be doing like writing papers on sperm whales and puzzling through dimensional analyses.

If I absolutely had my way, then I would be daydreaming for a living, like our Andrew Bird. I already do a lot of daydreaming, and I find it a useful sort of escape. I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but I like to think that my daydreaming is similar to his violin playing: it keeps one part of my mind amused so I can organize the thoughts in the other sections, and possibly come to some conclusions. Let's just say that if daydreaming paid, then I'd be rich. Then again, if we lived in the kind of world where daydreaming paid, I don't think anyone would have any use for money.

What sent my mind spiraling off in all of these odd directions, is a blog post by Mr. Bird on the New York Times website. The blog is called Measure For Measure: How To Write A Song and Other Mysteries, and Andrew Bird, Roseanne Cash, Suzanne Vega, and Darrel Brown are all involved in the writing. So far, there's only the post by Andrew Bird, but it gives the reader quite an insight into the artist's individual songwriting process. As with any artist, the individual process of creating art doesn't usually say a lot about the genre as a whole, but it can tell you an awful lot about a single musician and what the hell they're trying to say.

Here's a link to the blog: Measure For Measure: How To Write A Song and Other Mysteries

For those lovely blog readers who would rather spend their time listening to Andrew Bird's music, and puzzling it out like my dimensional analyses, there's always Bird's latest album Soldier On. Released in February, it's short and sweet, and rather down-tempo and melancholy. After reading his blog, I'd like to claim that I love everything this guy has ever written, but unfortunately, I don't.

There are a few gems on this album, including the opening song "The Trees Were Mistaken". The musicality is key here, because I can actually hear a forest in his shaking percussion and wailing, whistling vocal hums. "Plasticities (Remix)" is another song that's particularly likable, and on this song Bird's voice shines with a supporting cast of instruments. "Sectionate City" and "Oh Sister" capture distinct periods in time and geographical locations. "Sectionate City" is influenced heavily by traditional Asian music, and has an anachronistic feel or maybe just a certain openness that feels anachronistic because there are now so few open spaces in the world. "Oh Sister", on the other hand, has a whistling country certainty that's connected to the western half of the United States (at least in my mind) and the wide-open spaces where the buffalo roam. These are the four songs that happily caught my attention, and I'll let you make up your own mind on the other four. I'm off to daydream now, and probably work my way towards that paper.

Happy listening!

27 March, 2008

The House Always Wins

That's the rule stated in many casino-centric television shows and movies, but usually - in these same stories - the house doesn't win, and therein lie the plot. Here we have the movie 21 based on the nonfiction account of the MIT Blackjack Team. Far from a cute group of math/science nerds who play blackjack in their spare time, the MIT Blackjack Team was part of a world-wide card counting operation, created in the hopes of beating the casinos with mental agility. Card counting is not illegal (I repeat: not illegal), but if detected, card counters will be escorted off casino premises, because the rule of the game is that the house always wins.

I haven't seen 21, but the main character is played by Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe , the story revolves around people from MIT, and the soundtrack is pretty decent, so I wouldn't hesitate to invest a little time and money in the movie.

To get back to the soundtrack that I briefly mentioned, it's full of highs and lows. Unfortunately, or luckily depending on the way you look at it, the highs are never very high and the lows are inversely never very low. It's a light soundtrack that doesn't try very hard to be deep or add dimensions to the movie.

Start with "You Can't Always get What You Want", a light Rolling Stones tune made even lighter by an odd Soulwax remix. You follow that up with "Time To Pretend" by the groove/psych-tastic MGMT, and the lo-fi computer sound of LCD Soundsystem's "Big Ideas" and you have a very basic backdrop for MIT. On the casino side of things we've got the "Alright" by Knivez Out, which is a sweet little joint with a catchy piano hook. There's also Domino's "Tropical Moonlight" which is oddly very Gwen Stephani meets Casablanca meets the Muppets' cover of "Kokomo". Yeah, it's weird like that. "L.S.F." by Mark Ronson features Kasabian and is Vegas in musical form. If casinos aren't using this song to sell their own brand of magic, then they should be, because it got me excited about a part of the world that's never been on my travel list.

I just name-dropped the high points of the 21 soundtrack, and now for the low patches. There's the awkward pair of songs: "Young Folks" by Peter Bjorn and John, and "Shut Up and Drive" by Rihanna. Why would you ever choose two songs that have already seen their time in the musical spotlight as filler for your soundtrack? It's a little excessive, and unforgivably boring. "I Am the Unknown" by the Aliens follows the same melody through the whole song, and its honestly not a very good melody. UNKLE's "Hold My Hand" has a similar creativity deficit, while "Mad Pursuit" by Junkie XL is just tres annoying.

The rest of the album falls somewhere in between fun and lame, and has me wondering if the movie might just do the same thing. As I wrote before, there's a lot going for 21, and the soundtrack is far from outright misery for the ears, but it's also no There Will Be Blood.

25 March, 2008

Bodies of War

4,000 U.S. soldiers and counting, and five years in, the Iraq war is still going strong. Last spring I was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut to write about the conflict that should be affecting our entire country, and this year by another veteran, 25 year old Tomas Young who was paralyzed by a bullet in Iraq. The new documentary Body of War and the soundtrack of the same name, revolve around Tomas Young, a man who didn't question the validity of this war, until he felt the consequences.

I am eighteen years old, and I have many friends and relatives who would be certain candidates if the draft were reinstated. I also know quite a few boys with nihilistic tendencies, a deep need to prove themselves, and a fairly normal interest in violence who might sign up on a whim and a false sense of duty. Even though I personally would not join the armed services, I can see where Tomas Young was coming from, and as a thoughtful human being, he's now struggling with where he's going, and really where the whole country is going.

There's a human element missing from this war, and there has been since the beginning. On one side, our soldiers are being trained to see the Iraqi people and terrorists as less than human. It's difficult to kill someone who's real, but a stereotype is easy to kill. At home we grow our own brand of inhumanity. We don't see the caskets or hear the body-counts regularly. Tomas Young isn't sitting at most people's kitchen tables, reminding them that real, living, breathing people are being hurt in Iraq. By showing the human element of the Iraq war, Body of War is doing an invaluable service to the American people and to the world.

23 March, 2008

"(Lack Of) Love Will Tear Us Apart" - The Honeydrips

I'm feeling spring, and this song is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! The video is kind of lame in the beginning, but it gets better as you listen.

Maybe I should start eating breakfast

Let go for just a minute and fall into your own head, drifting in the words that echo there like wind inside a cave. It's probably not as romantic as it sounds, because really you've been thinking about breakfast; that guy who caught your eye in the coffee shop; the inefficiency of sleep; and, of course, that paper that's due just a little too soon. Still, let's hover on that mind-world just for a few more minutes and ponder your thoughts if - for example - you were Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carrol). With a mind like that there had to be some weird shit floating through, but I can bet you anything that it was more interesting than what you or I have going on in our heads.

Bad Dream Good Breakfast is the kind of band whose members, I imagine, have supremely odd and interesting things floating around in their heads. This flowing, floating world translates well onto their Spring '07 album Nothing Broken Nothing Damaged. I realize that I'm reviewing something that's a year old, but it's too good to ignore. Begin your mental exploration with "A Ghost That Couldn't Let Go". It's ethereal, timeless, and very spiritual, yet not ghastly. The song reminds me of a cool spring morning when water vapor funnels off last year's grass. Follow that with "The Urgency of Nightlife and the Temptations that Come of It", which is somewhat plodding and dramatic, with percussion that abruptly dismisses any spirits that might still be lingering in your ears. "Kiss The Ground" has the rhythm of a heartbeat and is a lyrical celebration of the things that you should be celebrating. "Hey Kid, Get Out of Your Cradle" has an exceptionally avant garde feel, and the whispered, layered vocals add an almost geometric feeling. This song is three dimensions in your ears. "Empty Streets" is a song that I've never heard before. By this I mean, there are songs that are new to me because I have physically never listened to them before, but there are also songs that are true originals (basically the whole Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album). "Empty Streets" is both. It captures a loneliness and mental restlessness that only a borderline insomniac could understand. The song is a perfect encapsulation of that mental state - the cerebral ping-pong match - that keeps a normally normal person from sleeping at night.

There are seven more songs that sound equally layered and built from the stuff of dreams; but, the more you listen to the music of Bad Dream Good Breakfast, the more you start to realize that this sound is extremely solid and functional. You could actually live in these dream castles, because they're built of strong musicianship and lyrical stability. Unlike many other experimental bands who try abstraction before mastering reality, Bad Dream Good Breakfast has their musical act together. This band knows their scales and they're also probably fairly well-versed in music theory and history. Listen to Nothing Broken Nothing Damaged and experience the intensity of a musical voyage through the extremely educated and slightly neurotic minds of Bad Dream Good Breakfast. It might not put you to sleep, but it will absolutely keep you entertained while you're awake.

21 March, 2008

A lovely thought

I've been organizing my life a little lately. It's a partly mental, partly physical organization started with the intention of jump-starting my mind on a few decisions I have to make in the next couple of months. I realized a couple days ago that I've been neglecting to take care of quite a few important things in my life, and that maybe my mental stagnancy is rooted in things that are perfectly easy to change. Spring cleaning, baby! It happens every year.

Anyway, I was organizing my reading material (perhaps even more of a daunting task than organizing my listening material), and I found a stack of New Yorkers that have been sitting, unread, under my bed. What a waste of paper, of gasoline for shipping, and of the thoughts of excellent writers who have spent their time thinking and writing about important things. So three and a half issues later, I'm feeling a lot less guilty, but a lot more like I really need to get involved in this little thing we call "the world". There's a massive amount of shit going on, if you guys haven't noticed, and the majority of stories that are published in periodicals chronicle lives and events that are depressing bordering on horrific.

Did you know that we have internment camps for illegal immigrants? Well, I did; but I didn't know that they were often run by private prison companies, and that parents and children could be held for up to a year while they waited to be granted asylum. I read this in an article entitled "The Lost Children" by Margaret Talbot (New Yorker, March 3, 2008). In the March 17th, 2008 issue, there was an article about author Pat Barker. Written by Kennedy Fraser, "Ghost Writer" chillingly details the violent experiences and sad events that make Pat Barker a great writer. One of the more interesting revelations to note in this article, is how mundane the actuality of ghosts was in a Post-war England. With almost an entire generation of dead and wounded (haunted) men, Barker's family found it simple to believe in ghosts, and almost unimaginable not to believe in a spiritual afterlife.

Numerous articles discussed politics and policy, the mass hedonism of the American people, the collapse of the world economy, the environment, and the likelihood that Suburban women will soon be carrying their very own pink tazers (I just shook my head and laughed). Then I found a short piece in the section called Talk Of The Town. "Words and Music: When In Pyongyang" by Kate Julian is really just marvelous. It's not a cure-all to every woe that I just named, not an absolute fix, but it expresses - in a very clever way - the lengths that individual people are willing to go to in the hopes of achieving unity and understanding. The New York Philharmonic went to North Korea to perform, and in these internationally tense times Lorin Maazel (music director) was understandably nervous. It's not like the U.S. and North Korea have had the best track record, and even very recently we've come close to offering to blow each other up. Music heals many woes, but it can also create massive rifts, and Maazel seemed to feel like he was standing on a giant, hidden crevasse. By the way, Korean is one of the most difficult languages for an English-speaking person to learn and Maazel was adamant that he deliver his introduction in Korean, without the help of a translator. With a little ingenuity, Maazel endeavored to write a score that would perfectly match the tone, pitch, and emphasis of the Korean words he was trying to speak. This is an awesome idea in my opinion, seeing as the most difficult thing about pronouncing words in Korean (or Mandarin, or Japanese) is not that the words themselves are difficult to say, but that the way you say them is so incredibly important to the meaning. With all of his work, Maazel finally decided that he would need to deliver his introduction in English with a Korean interpreter, and the musical coaxing was scratched. It was just too difficult to learn Korean in such a short period of time. The concert went on, of course, and was quite a success with its Korean audience, and in the end the music was the perfect delivery system for the ideas that Maazel could not express in language. What I find so immensely encouraging about this article is the thought of one person working so hard to be understood in a world full of misunderstandings. If everyone could put in the effort of Lorin Maazel, then maybe we wouldn't have internment camps or entire generations to mourn. After reading Kate Julian's little article, I feel like spring cleaning is probably a good idea.

19 March, 2008

"I Should Have Known Better" - The Beatles

M. Ward & Zooey (not a J.D. Salinger novel)

For a long time I've been hoping that Zooey Deschanel would get her musical act together and record some tunes. It all started with her gorgeous cover of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in Elf, then I heard her little cameos on the Coconut Records album and I was craving more of her winning vocals.

Yesterday marked the release of Volume One by She & Him. The she is Zooey Deschanel and the him is M. Ward. This album is ridiculously fun. It's simple, direct, and the acoustic tracks perfectly accompany Zooey's homey, old-fashioned sounding voice.

I'm going to begin at the end and work my way back. "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" is recorded at mumble volume, and the static and humming give it the sound of something made in the rain. "Sweet Darlin'" grabs the spirit of '50s harmonizing girl groups, but layers Zooey's voice so that the wisps of sound are spooky. "I Should Have Known Better" pulls out the lap-steel and tropical percussion, and makes the Beatles song sound like something you would play at a luau. "Got Me" is a soft, country shuffle and Zooey channels June Carter with ease. "Black Hole" echoes and swings, while "You Really Got A Hold On Me" sparkles with regret. I've only reviewed half of the album, but I want to leave some surprises for my readers.

Every track has its own character, and every track is its own little time-capsule in musical history. Each bubble of sound stands uniquely, and yet fits perfectly into the final puzzle of Volume One. You wouldn't necessarily think that "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and "I Should Have Known Better" would work so well together, but then again, you wouldn't necessarily think that M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel would collaborate so well on an album. Preconceived notions should constantly be challenged, and Volume One challenges with flare.

"Gyasi Went Home" - Bedouin Soundclash

I need to see some of these places (I mean really see them).

"59th Street Bridge Song" - Simon & Garfunkel

18 March, 2008

The Geek in me Woooots!

This is not a joke...


Delicious Piano

Coincidences seem to pile up in my life, and I have quite a few friends who would say that they aren't coincidences. I tend to buy into the idea that the energy you create pushes situations and people towards you. It sounds kind of corny, right? Well, listen to the second part: I also think that if you think about someone and that person is tied to a strong emotion, they can feel it. Haven't you ever wondered why you won't think of a friend for years, and then suddenly you'll start thinking of them again and you happen to run into them or hear about them? This is not just a random event.

Well, lo and behold, I woke up this morning pretty sniffly for a number of reasons, opened my iTunes folder, and voila: Goodbye Blues by the Hush Sound was the first album that caught my attention. I didn't even notice the title until after I had previewed almost all of the tracks. Spooky!

First things first, you can say what you want about trashy Pete Wentz and his Fall Out Boys, but I happen to be a bit of a closet fan and I find nothing wrong with unabashed emo music. Fueled By Ramen is only tangentially connected to Wentz through his imprint, Decaydance Records. Therefore, the Hush Sound is practically separated by six degrees from Fall Out Boy, and what you hear on their latest album sounds like it could be separated by entire continents.

Goodbye Blues does something pretty stellar. The album succeeds in finding that piano-pop niche that made the other Hush Sound albums so much fun, but also breaks out of the mold a bit with a stronger sound and a little musical stretching. This time, the third time is charming and this album is the perfect peppy punch to soundtrack a rough goodbye.

"Intro" winds and whispers away behind the piano, but is followed by "Honey", a jangley tune that sets the send-off mood for the rest of the album. "Medicine Man" rumbles, but then breaks into pop hallelujahs during the chorus. Greta Salpeter, the main voice of the Hush Sound, sings "I don't just want to be your regret" and you feel exactly where she's coming from. Her voice lacks any bitterness, in fact it is just bursting with full-bodied sweetness. "The Boys Are Too Refined" combines lo-fi guitar wailing with a piano roll that makes the song sound a bit chaotic, but the Hush Sound are back on top with "Hurricane", a lullaby to weather systems that are sexy and dangerous. "As You Cry" sounds like it should be an unbearably sad Dashboard Confessional breakup song, but actually it patterns itself after the Beatles' early music, and uses heavy melodies to channel regret rather than whiney vocals.

"Six" is the mid-album piano interlude, and then the album begins again with "Molasses" (I wonder if that was planned, that the counterpart to "Honey" on the second half of the album is called "Molasses"?). "That's Okay" is gentle and lolling, and makes me wish that I owned this album right now. "Not Your Concern" follows with super-powered boy rock, and '80s-esque percussion precision (the precision was in the drum machines back then, I know). The final three songs keep up the energy, but the best of the bunch is the grand finale: "Break the Sky". It sticks to the same simple formula as the rest of the album, showcase the melodies and the strength of Greta's voice while delivering a swift punch to the stomach with the too-true lyrics.

Goodbye Blues is a great album, and one that should have any broken-hearted individual whistling along in no time. There's very little negativity, and - in fact - a deep positivity that strengthens your resolve to move on towards the next big adventure and off down the highway of life.

17 March, 2008

Kiss me, I'm...

I'm a mutt, but I've always felt more closely connected to my Celtic roots, than any of the other nationalities that pop up on my pedigree. There's something comforting about the food, the music, the humor, and even the weather (yup, I'm one of those people who can be happy because it's raining.) I've never been the type of person to collect relatives, probably because a great majority of my relatives would be average bordering on disappointing, but I've always liked the idea that I have some genetic connections to Ireland and Scotland.

On Friday night, I drove with a good friend to Northampton for an Enter the Haggis concert. Between a frustrating combination of unhappy weather and windy back-roads, we reached our destination about an hour later than planned, and missed the first half of the concert. With some helpful directions, we boogied over to Pearl Street and happened to stumble into the venue during the halfway mark, when ETH themselves were taking a well-deserved break. The lights were low and the room large, but if you scanned excitedly you could see the Haggis heads in their personalized kilts with beers in hand. It's a cult following that left me a little bemused. Yes, Enter the Haggis is an extremely talented band that succeeds in blending world music in ways that few other bands can; but, I can't see myself driving across the country to see any band (maybe Hendrix, if he were resurrected.) Mind you, all of this went through my head before the boys started playing their addictive tunes.

It isn't often that a band can pull you in with their first song in a set, but the energy of ETH and their audience was so tangible and almost galvanizing that I found myself dancing before I knew what had taken hold. A great performance can create connections between people who have never set eyes on each other, and Enter the Haggis absolutely succeeded in this endeavor, but what was especially enchanting about their performance was that they seemed genuinely "chuffed" (to borrow my friend's word) that their audience was so united by the music and the spirit of celebration. Far from being jaded by their success and the loyalty of their die-hard fans, ETH gets just as excited by their music as anyone else, and their enthusiasm brings their music to new heights.

The set-list was almost unimportant when every song was so well-played, but the encore of "Down With the Ship" and "Gasoline" was potent and left the night charged with and not drained of energy. In high spirits, my friend and I exited the venue and walked out into the rain. As we walked down Pearl Street, my friend expressed some regret at missing the first half of the show. "The second half was awesome", I said, and to my slight surprise a fellow concert-goer chimed into our conversation with "The second half was awesome". I guess that spell that ETH casts over their audience isn't magically dissipated at the door. The bond of an Enter the Haggis show lasts for awhile, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

13 March, 2008


"What is the feeling when you're driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? -it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

- Jack Kerouac, On The Road

What I love about music is its tangibility and malleability to any circumstance or feeling, and its consistency when you need it by your side. It's a sober woman's drug. I'm addicted.

"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" - Bob Dylan

I never realized how ridiculously true these lyrics are until just recently. It's a beautiful, beautiful piece of poetry.

"Summer, Highland Falls" - Billy Joel

Another lyrically superb song that just captures a feeling. I have to copy the words here:

"They say that these are not the best of times
But they're the only times I've ever known
And I believe there is a time for meditation
In cathedrals of our own

Now I have seen that sad surrender in my lover's eyes
And I can only stand apart and sympathize
For we are always what our situations hand us
It's either sadness or euphoria

And so we'll argue and we'll compromise
And realize that nothing's ever changed
For all our mutual experience
Our separate conclusions are the same

Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity
Our reason coexists with our insanity
And though we choose between reality and madness
It's either sadness or euphoria

How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
Perhaps we don't fulfill each other's fantasies
And so we stand upon the ledges of our lives
With our respective similarities
It's either sadness or euphoria

"Linger" - The Cranberries

I've been overdosing on Irish music lately. I think it's that time of the year. Dolores O'Riordan is a magnificent vocalist who can sing softly, but with strength.

"Hello, Goodbye" - The Beatles

"You say goodbye, and I say hello..."; that's all there is to say.

"Since You've Been Gone" - Aretha Franklin

I'll admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone", but Aretha's song takes the motherfucking cake for soul and spirit.

"Twilight" - Elliott Smith

This song is heartbreaking and gorgeous. I used to listen to it on repeat when I first realized that Elliott Smith was a musical genius. Choice lyric:
"I haven't laughed this hard in a long time, I better stop now before I start crying. I go off to sleep in the sunshine. I don't want to see the day when it's dying."

"Me and Bobby Mcgee" - Grateful Dead

How do you comment on a classic? Listen to it and feel it.

"Which Way Your Heart Will Go" - Mason Jennings

The simple and comfortable chord progression and Mason's stretching and settling voice make this song absolutely amazing. He asks that big question: "Where would I be right now, if all my dreams had come true?". Well, things obviously wouldn't be the same, but the question of whether they would be better or worse has yet to be answered. Jennings does tell us that "...there's no way to know which way your heart will go."

"Leaving Me" - ZOX

The Z-boys rock it out and explore the outer realms of violin musicianship and the outer realms of relationship troubles. Take Me Home is still my favorite ZOX album, and "Leaving Me" one of my favorite songs from that album. It's basically awesome.

"Time To Say Goodbye (Con Te Partiro)" - Chris Botti

Botti's the trumpet man, and this is an amazing example of musical composition. The first few notes seep in like a sunrise, then climax and drift back down to Earth. The strings are encouraging and playful, and the deeper horns sit in the background pushing the listener on. As the song ends, the trumpet grows stronger and reaches higher. It's an intensely emotional piece and one that I can only listen to with my full attention, and that I only choose to listen to on sunny days.

12 March, 2008

Art that Rocks

As many of you music fans know, this week is the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. It's an insane time for music-lovers who can't wait to have their favorite indies break and their favorite favorites, well, become more favorable? There's music to discover, to enjoy, and to shake your ass to. I especially like the fact that - this year - I can listen to the festival from the comfort of my own bed with KEXP broadcasting live on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Yum! It's almost like I'm in Austin. Now, if I could only find a visual feast to keep my eyes busy while my ears are enjoying the awesome tunes.

This is where Flatstock 16 comes into play. Maybe you readers have guessed this about me already, but I happen to be a fan of all kinds of art. I like music (obviously), but I also like fine art, movies, comic books, dance, theatre, fashion, and concert posters. Flatstock 16 is a poster art convention being held at SXSW, and it looks to be an amazing time. WIRED magazine has a killer photo-article about Flatstock 16, with a special concentration on the work of East Bay poster-makers Firehouse Kustom Rockart. They make some gorgeous psychedelic pieces and they've worked for everyone from the Deftones to U2. To borrow a phrase from my father (who most likely borrowed from someone else) it's a sumptuous repast, a visual smorgasbord, and something you just shouldn't miss seeing.

Here are links to the WIRED article and Firehouse Kustom Rockart:


Firehouse Kustom Rockart

11 March, 2008

"First Day of My Life" - Bright Eyes

"Sycamore Down" - Jaymay

"If I Had Eyes" - Jack Johnson

If I had eyes in the back of my head
I would have told you that
You looked good
As I walked away

And if you could've tried to trust the hand that fed
You would've never been hungry
But you never really be

The more of this or less of this or is there any difference
or are we just holding onto the things we don't have anymore

Sometimes time doesn't heal
No not at all
Just stand still
While we fall
In or out of love again I doubt I'm gonna win you back
When you got eyes like that
It won't let me in

Always looking out

Lot of people spend their time just floating
We were victims together but lonely
You got hungry eyes that just can't look forward
Can't give them enough but we just can't start over
Building with bent nails we're
falling but holding, I don't wanna take up anymore of your time
Time time time

Sometimes time doesn't heal
No not all
Just stand still
While we fall
In or out of love again I doubt I'm gonna win you back
When you got eyes like that
It won't let me in
Always looking out
Always lookin

Culture in a Vacuum

My friend sent me an article last night that succeeded in being one of the best pieces of journalism I've ever read. Luckily, this article revolved around a musical revelation; or, actually, a cultural revelation magnified by music. Like any great story, the catalyst is a question:

"What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibnitz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?"

It's a tall order, and one that can only be filled by a cunning plan and a true artist. Enter, Joshua Bell, child prodigy and extremely gifted violinist along with his best friend, his Stradavari violin. Now, transform this artist into a street-performer by changing his usual setting to something a little more drab and mundane. Voila! The prince and the pauper transformation is complete, and the evidence of hidden cameras and interviews seems to suggest that although great music can transcend the constraints of its setting to some extent, most people are in too much of a rush to listen anyway. In the end, it seems to be a combination of self-interest and insecurity that keep adults from stopping to enjoy the sounds of one of the greatest contemporary violinists. I say adults, because one of the more hopeful revelations of this well-written article is that children are always willing to pay attention to great music.

Set some time aside to read "Pearls Before Breakfast", and you won't be disappointed.

10 March, 2008

"Habanera" - Maria Callas


09 March, 2008

"M79 (LIVE)" - Vampire Weekend

My new favorite song!

08 March, 2008

"Thinking About You" - Radiohead

Listen to the words.

07 March, 2008

The Student Body Graduates with Honors

I found The Student Body on one of my site hopping afternoons with the unknowing assistance of WireTap magazine. There was an article on Black New World, an art space in Oakland that specializes in the art of the African American community. From Myspace to Myspace I bounced, until I came across a sound that I found tantalizingly different and I discovered The Student Body.

Their first album, The Student Body Presents Arts & Sciences, is an exploratory amalgamation of hip-hop and electronic music with a deep punk-rock spirit. Many of the songs straddle the line between beat-poetry and more classic hip-hop delivery, and the raw energy of the electronic instrumentation is similar to that of early Le Tigre. This music is politically charged and dynamic in nature. "Eunice" bounces along sinisterly while Miasha Williams' voice echoes at angles that sound physically impossible to achieve without super-speed. "Boxes" follows "Eunice" with hurricane-like intensity and coolly delivered statements that clash wildly. "Drift Wit' It" rolls like the tide and Miasha whispers, but "Mantra" skips along like a scratched record with Miasha's ethereal vocals floating above, free from any jolting stops and starts.

Every song on this thirteen track album sounds different, and not only different in rhythm and composition, but also in texture. Textural diversity crops up from song to song and even from line to line. On The Student Body Presents Arts & Sciences, sound is explored and utilized fully and expression is never bound by the parameters of genre or the reach of a particular instrument. The music man, Eric Porter, does his job well, layering and applying sounds to lyrics in ways that are incredibly innovative and thoughtful. Vocally, Miasha succeeds in jumping from whispering chanteuse to soul diva in the span of a few minutes. I doubt that I will grow bored with this album, instead I will be waiting with baited breath for the next release by this extremely talented Oakland band.

06 March, 2008

Where the Pavement ends

Stephen Malkmus started out in the Portland indie band Pavement. On their '90s release Slanted and Enchanted, they stayed true to their title and slanted and enchanted the music scene for years to come. It was with a soft blend of grungey distortion and twee lyrical delivery that the band seemed to pull contemporary indie rock from their instruments, fully formed and ready for the hipsters. I'm only being a little sarcastic.

On Tuesday, Malkmus released a different kind of album with his band the Jicks. On Real Emotional Trash Malkmus retains the right to write songs that sound like Pavement. He's mostly thrown out the uncontrolled distortional quality, but the songs sound like something Pavement would record with a little age and a little more time spent listening to the Grateful Dead and Dylan. It's melodic and peppy, and a pleasure to listen to.

Start with a little "Dragonfly Pie", which borrows heavily from '70s hard rock. Hear the buzzing, humming, heavy energy? That's the sound of Malkmus' genre experimentation. Jump to "Hopscotch William" and you can hear the influence of Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek on the chorus. The following guitar solo is Hendrix inspired, if not fully realized as a burning, floating, passionate explosion of guitar sound. "Cold Son" realizes child-like psychedelia, then gallops along to meet the simmering piano descent of "Real Emotional Trash". The lyrics on "Baltimore" are delivered with the plain enthusiasm of every song on this album, but when you listen closely, this feels a little wrong. Malkmus sings: "You've got the energy of a classic creep, with sex bought from aisles and shark eyes asleep...". Part of me wants to know what that means, and part of me is too caught up in the music to care.

I think Malkmus counts on his listeners being torn between complete attraction to the music he's making, and complete confusion as to what that music really is. It's clear on the bonus track "Walk Into the Mirror" that he had the intention of making this album a 1960s and '70s cliche with '90s sarcasm. He's laughing at the stereotypes, but he's not denying them. In fact, Malkmus seems to be backing up musical cliches with every instrument and clever lyric in his repertoire. It's here where Malkmus gets closer to and further from his roots than ever before. Where Pavement mashed sounds together to make the epitome of '90s music, Malkmus is now weaving the threads of the '60s and '70s into a much cleaner album, and openly acknowledging his debts to the past.

05 March, 2008

Treat Her Right - The Commitments

The Miseducation of an entire generation

This post started with a completely innocuous car-ride, soundtracked by some basic gangster rap. Sure the music was violent and misogynistic with a capitalist bent that most economists would be proud of, but its biggest sin was its banality. At one point, my friend turned to me and said: "It all sounds the same." Boring.

Now let's take a few steps back in time to a recent conversation I had with my Dad. He's a pretty enlightened music snob, far from prudish and always open to listening, but we have a complete musical disconnect when it comes to hip-hop and rap. I don't know how many times he's reiterated my friend's statement that "it all sounds the same", but when he says these words, he's talking about the entire genre. A quick listen to the top Hip Hop/Rap songs on iTunes would give anyone the impression that synth beats, primal "bird of prey" screeching, and graphic slang are all that the genre has to offer. Music should never be taken at face value. Souljah Boy, Timbaland, and Flo Rida are only a small section of the hip-hop music available for those willing to search. Even popular artists like Lupe Fiasco and, yes, Kanye are breaking the hip-hop mold and creating fantastic sounds.

Yesterday, Samhita Mukhopadhyay posted "Confessions of a Hip-Hop Feminist" on The Nation, a blog post lamenting the generational disconnect that hip-hop music has illuminated. She writes of her college days:

"It was already understood that hip-hop was political and it certainly gave many disenfranchised youth a vehicle through which to communicate the material conditions of their lives. There was no question that hip-hop was a movement, but whether it would ever be considered a "legitimate" political movement was yet to be seen."

This is still yet to be seen.

Music and politics have long gone hand-in-hand. To paraphrase the character Jimmy in Roddy Doyle's book The Commitments: Soul is the music of ridin' (a.k.a. fucking) and the music of the proletariat (a.k.a. the working class). These two defining traits bring to light basic urges: to be free and rise above your parent's class, and to "get some". These basic needs are expressed in hip-hop music, they're just being expressed with a different generation's language, and therein lies that massive disconnect.

I think it is the language and the musicality of hip hop/rap that has the Boomers and the X-ers in generational tizzies. For one, the internet generation's slang is so malleable that it's difficult for the internet generation to keep up with it. When it comes to musicality, hip-hop and rap are still seen as less than valid forms of musical expression. Turn-tableism and the use of sampling and mixing are not often validated as true art-forms by people under thirty. The delivery of the lyrics is also new enough that the lack of true singing takes even more away from the genre's musical credentials. It is also an unfortunate truth that the use of language that is uncomfortable, often obscures the meaning that underlies said use. In other words, I think certain people have a more difficult time accepting that violence, sex, racism, and sexism should be openly expressed through music, and that it would be inappropriate to use language that is not hard and painful when discussing painful topics.

Near the end of her blog post, Samhita Mukhopadhyay writes:

"Influenced by Ards and a handful of other authors (Tricia Rose and Eisa Davis) that had started to talk about hip-hop and feminism, I began to write about the political power of hip hop, how it connected to feminism and the need for dialogue between these two worlds.

Ultimately, I was ambivalent, because I realized I would never be comfortable being called a "bitch" or a "ho" no matter how much I knew you didn't totally mean it, but I also realized I would forever love hip-hop. And here I am 10 years later, still working through the same questions, and continuing to function in a political climate that is hostile to youth and the hip-hop generation and a culture of misogyny and materialism that has drowned some of the most poignant and sharp criticism of oppression through words, beats and rhythms.

Obviously, my generation is not relinquishing its right to be uncomfortable with certain words and sentiments. Thinking people will always have issues with hateful language and the application of stereotypes. Still, the most heinous crime in music is the creation of a sound that is boring, a sound that does not challenge the listener or have an underlying meaning. There's plenty of hip-hop/rap that is still challenging and thoughtful, politically charged, and questioning, but we have at least three generations who need to loosen up a little and trust that their progeny aren't complete morons before these genres can be musically validated and openly connected to the American political process.

Read all of Samhita Mukhopadhyay's blog post here: "Confessions Of A Hip-Hop Feminist".

04 March, 2008

Tears Dry On Their Own (LIVE) - Amy Winehouse

Mustang Sally - The Commitments

I've been reading about this movie everywhere lately, and I just finished the book. Here's a little soul for y'all.

Not Your Average Skate Music

Paranoid Park sounds like the title of a bad '90s slasher-pic with sub par alliteration. In reality, it's the new Gus Van Sant movie about a teenage skatah boi from Portland who stumbles into his roll as a notorious murderer. I'm still on the fence about the movie. I probably won't be viewing this gem in theatres, just because I was slightly turned off by the screaming D-R-A-M-A of the trailer. Paranoid Park seems to be just a little too caught up in its own seriousness to be any fun.

The soundtrack on the other hand, is loads of fun, and incredibly lacking in anything nasally, youthful, and loudly nonconformist. It begins with the European cinema sounds of Nino Rota. "La Gradisca e il Principe" is the sound of a day spent tooling around beautiful, scenic Italy and a night bursting with wine and stars. Elliott Smith somberly follows with "Angeles" and "The White Lady Loves You More". A Portland boy at heart, Smith sets the tone for a town made by trees. His songs are quiet and still, they barely move but they have a spooky energy that reminds me of dark, damp forests and hidden life. Nino Rota returns on tracks four, nine, and eleven with frenetic tempo changes and an eerie use of horns that could make even the most hardened heart joyful and paranoid within the same few seconds. The other tracks run the gamut from the jazzy New Orleans swing of Henry Davies' "Tunnelmouth Blues" to the trip-hop of Cool Nutz' "I Heard That" and the electronic uber-chill of Ethan Rose's "Song One".

Taken as a whole, the soundtrack is incredibly impressive. It stoops to none of the stereotypes of bad thrillers or skate movies, and yet it strikes chords of both creepiness and alienation. It isn't often that I find a soundtrack that makes me more interested in watching the movie, but the Paranoid Park soundtrack has instantly affected me more than any trailer ever could.

01 March, 2008

In like a lion...

I have this soft spot in my heart for Irish and Scottish Punk. I find the accents incredibly comforting. Laughter in the face of adversity is a common theme, and something so ingrained into my psyche that I don't think I'll ever separate myself from it. The Dropkicks and Enter the Haggis have entered my year-long rotation of music, but they always make a special day-long appearance on St. Patrick's Day, along with the Chieftains, Ashley MacIsaac, the Pogues, and a various cast of characters who reside on my family record shelf.

My favorite Irish punk band for year-long play, is the fantastic Flogging Molly, who effortlessly combine drinking songs with ballads of change. Drunken Lullabies was a fucking tour-de-force of an album, that smashed out of my player only to waltz into my ears. It's got bombastic, undeniable, force behind it, but it's also gentle and soothing, when the need arises. With Float, their latest album, Flogging Molly seems to relinquish most of the softness, while the bitterness of certain heart-break jumps through each song. The album starts with a requiem, and ends with a prologue; but in between, we find nine songs of sadness that blast on through, refusing to give up.

"Requiem for a Dying Song" is edgy and reminiscent of an Irish funeral, where everyone laughs and remembers. Still, the feeling of certain death is present in the title alone. This is a requiem for something that has not yet died, and to relinquish that power of Irish stubbornness to move mountains or bring something back from the brink of death, is practically sacrilegious. I suppose Flogging Molly is feeling that this "dying song" is not worth saving, but what a bitter realization. The title song is equally frustrating and intriguing in its lyrical separation from traditional Irish music. It's a song that reeks of surrender to a host of things from alcohol to old age, and even the chorus that pleads with you to stay afloat, seems half-hearted and slightly disconnected. "You Won't Make A Fool Out Of Me" is more spunky with a certain fighting spirit, and "Between A Man and A Woman" is beautiful request for complete and unwavering love. "Us of Lesser Gods" is a tightly written song that describes some of the guilty, Catholic feelings of an Irish wanderer, over soaring and hovering strings that tense and explode. "From The Back of A Broken Dream" has a completely different feeling of happy/drunk resignation, and is followed by "Man With No Country", a fiery song that's endowed with both energy and spirit. The finale is "The Story So Far", which sounds like a beginning to my musically inclined ears. It doesn't feel particularly brash and hopeful, but it isn't a complete abdication of life.

In the end, I have this creeping feeling that Float is an extremely well-written swan song, but I hope with all my heart that it is not. The energy and enthusiasm of Drunken Lullabies has leveled a bit, and the certainty of old age and world weariness has taken its toll on Flogging Molly. They're still the fighting Irish, but they're also the slightly bitter and resigned/curmudgeony Irish who are fighting to find the perfect middle-ground between aging gracefully and not going gently into that good night. If Float is their middle-ground, then I'll certainly continue to listen, and maybe learn a thing or two about aging from those who've come before me.

Brainstorm - Arctic Monkeys